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ACORN takes action against workers videotaped by conservative activists

September 18, 2009 |  7:54 am

ACORN officials in San Diego County and San Bernardino have taken action against workers who answered questions about starting a prostitution business while being secretly videotaped by conservative activists.

In National City near San Diego, an ACORN worker was fired for "unacceptable conduct" for answering questions by the activists, who posed as a prostitute and a pimp. 

Spokesman David Lagstein made the announcement just hours after saying no action would be taken against the organizer, Juan Carlos Vera.  Still,  Lagstein referred to the two activists who came to the National City office as "unscrupulous partisan videographers."

On Thursday, the chairman of the Republican Party in San Diego County and a Republican member of the County Board of Supervisors joined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in calling for an investigation of ACORN.

GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric and Supervisor Bill Horn said they were particularly suspicious of the group's voter registration efforts in a local Assembly race and a San Diego City Council race, both won by Democrats.

The undercover video shot at the ACORN office in National City purports to show the worker willing to help someone interested in setting up a prostitution ring, possibly with girls from Tijuana. The video has been  shown on commentator Sean Hannity's Fox News program.

"Coverage by the national media has put a black mark on our region and we have an obligation to find the truth," Horn said. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) has introduced a motion in Congress calling for the government to deny all federal funding to ACORN.

Meanwhile, an second videotape showed an ACORN worker in San Bernardino offering advice on how to set up prostitution businesses. 

That worker has been suspended.

Conservative activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles posed as a pimp and a prostitute, respectively, in a hidden-camera video released Tuesday that depicts a woman who O’Keefe says is an ACORN worker in San Bernardino saying she could show them “how not to get caught.” On the video, which is edited, she also discusses allegedly killing her ex-husband and says she “laid some groundwork” beforehand by going to domestic violence shelters and saying she was abused.

But Christina Spach, the supervisor of the ACORN office in San Bernardino, told the San Bernardino Sun that the woman on the tape knew the pair were joking but went along with it in part because she was alone in the office and was concerned for her safety. "Just to be clear, ACORN is not in the prostitution business," Spach told the Sun. "She was in an office all by herself. She felt unsafe in their company."

The worker, Tresa Kaelke, told the Washington Post: "I thought from the very beginning it was a joke."

ACORN called on the activists to release the full tape, but declined to make the worker on the tape available to speak with reporters. 

O’Keefe and Giles have previously released similar videos in Baltimore, Washington and New York that have appeared on websites and Fox News. In a letter to state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown released to reporters, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said the reports “concerned me greatly."

Brown spokesman Scott Gerber said in a statement that his office would review the video, "and if we think there's any wrongdoing, we'll look into it or refer it to the local" district attorney. The U.S. Senate voted Monday to block federal housing grants to the group, which has also come under fire in voter registration fraud cases, particularly during last year’s presidential campaign.The group registers voters for Democrats.

--Tony Perry in San Diego and Shelby Grad